Every day, parents like Illion and her husband hear dire news couched in clinical terms like "incompatible with life," "no quality of life," and "termination of pregnancy." Many mothers abort but some don't, not knowing whether their children will lead fairly normal lives, live with serious illnesses, or die soon after birth. Despite the uncertainty and fear, these mothers often have no regrets that they chose life for their children, no matter how brief. Here are the stories of five who continued their pregnancies despite medical advice to the contrary.
Almost every doctor the Illions saw pressured them to abort. Doctors said their son would be a vegetable, disfigured, never talk or walk, on a respirator. Doctors even called the Illions selfish for refusing to abort or, as they put it, "explore other options."
The Illions spotted a glimmer of hope when a neurosurgeon told them that there was no reason why Cole wouldn't lead a normal life. In the end, Kim Illion says, "He was born, and he was perfect." Cole went through brain surgery at 1 day old and has had 12 surgeries since.
Today, Cole is a healthy and happy 5-year-old. "Even when he's in the hospital getting surgery he smiles when he wakes up.
But terminating her pregnancy was, in Mabeus' mind, not an option: "I had already felt him move. This was my baby."
When Samuel Mabeus was born in 2006, Mary Mabeus insisted on "complete aggressive care." Samuel struggled to breathe at first and spent a month in intensive care, but doctors could find no sign of the genetic disorder. At 18 months, doctors still couldn't find any signs of the Trisomy 13. Yet at 19 months Samuel contracted a virus, spiked a temperature of 106, and died.
"We lived a lifetime in his 19 and a half months," Mabeus said. "What seems to be so imperfect in the eyes of everyone else is what ends up being the most perfect. He was the most perfect little soul that I'll ever know in my lifetime.
Cascia's doctor dropped her case: "I went four weeks without having a doctor at all because nobody wanted to touch me." She eventually found a medical group at St. Peter's, a Catholic hospital that specialized in high-risk pregnancies.
Cascia gave birth to Gabriel on Feb. 24, 2004. He lived for 90 minutes. Hospital staff gave out wristbands for easy access and brought in muffins and coffee to ensure that her 35 family members and friends could spend as much time as possible with him.
The Cascias brought Gabriel an outfit and had him baptized in the hospital room. "It's odd," Cascia said, looking back on the day. "It wasn't a morning filled with grief and mourning and tears. The sadness came later. Everyone was feeling blessed that they even had an hour and a half with him."
Only a few months later, in June 2001, Rafie sat in a doctor's office, struggling to deal with the diagnosis that her unborn child, a girl already named Celine, had Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome: Only the left side of the heart was forming.
Rafie thought back to the women on the message boards. "I felt in my own mind these words: 'Now you will walk the walk.'" She dismissed abortion: "Even if my baby were not going to survive, I would want to spend whatever time I could with her and meet her at the end."
But a specialist soon discovered that Celine had been misdiagnosed; she had Right Heart syndrome, a condition that offered slightly higher chances of life.
The family chose aggressive care to try to extend her life. "I thought that it was our responsibility as her parents to try to take the course of treatment that could extend her life," Rafie said. "We thought she would want to live."
Celine underwent three surgeries—at 6 days, 9 months, and 18 months—to "replumb her heart," ensuring that it could function on one ventricle. Now 8 years old, she lives her life "full speed ahead.